Yesterday I attempted an experiment.
I was going to do only one trick. My entire 30 minute show at Pier 39 was going to be one trick. And that trick was going to be the Paintball Catch.
And that’s what I did. I crowd gathered and did my paintball catch. I performed 4 of these shows, and I am astonished at how well they were received. I came out satisfied and with a few things to think about.
Thing To Think About Number One:
Time is a good thing to spend. The show still lasted 30 minutes. Here’s why: By limiting myself to two effects, I denied myself the option of speeding up to “get onto the next thing.” I couldn’t mentally jettison myself from a routine if the audience response wasn’t satisfying me. There was no “next trick” to try again with. I was forced to course correct and find a middle ground between their energy level and mine. This resulted in me taking my time with every moment of the show. I gave time for my expressions to resonate. I let jokes find their audience. I allowed the magic to breathe. I spent time with my audience.
Thing To Think About Number Two:
A single plot is better than several little ones, even if this means less material. Jugglers understand this better than magicians I think. Jugglers will work towards one big trick, and all of the material comes from that simple concept. The plot is simple “Juggler-man is going to ride a 6 foot unicycle while juggling knives, and then the audience will pay him.” Simple. The show becomes him gathering an audience, warming up, climbing a ladder to get onto the unicycle, getting the knives, juggling, hat pitching, and dismounting. It is a simple plot which is easy to follow and retains the audience. The plot I just described is the Sardine Family Circus’ show- the most successful street act in San Francisco right now.
Compare this to the magic show plot. “Magician-man is going to do a trick with a rope, then he will find three selected cards, then he’s going to make some balls appear and disappear (where did the watermelon come from???), then he will catch a paintball in his teeth. And then the audience will pay him.” Even if you simplify this down to “Magician-man is going to do a bunch of amazing things and then the audience will pay him,” it still isn’t as elegant or compelling of a plot. Plus each transition in there is a chance for the audience to leave or mentally check out.
My plot last night was “Magician-man is going to catch a paintball (in his teeth) and then the audience will pay him.” I feel this simplified plot was appreciated by the audience, and I feel this way because they paid me well for the shows.
Thing To Think About Number Three:
Every new plot you introduce is one more distraction from your personality. Variety is overrated. Some of the best close-up sets I’ve seen revolved around one signed card, and the best stage sets consisted of very few tricks. Copperfield’s two hour show is a mere nine routines. As an audience member I like that greatly. I leave understanding and appreciating each trick more fully than had I watched every trick in Copperfield’s repertoire. More material isn’t always better. I comes off as frantic.
I felt very connected with my audience last night. By not having to constantly introduce new props and plot elements, I was free to explore and let my personality take center stage. The tricks felt so secondary to what the audience and I were doing together. Teller’s insight that “the tricks are what we do to give the audience a chance to stare at us” feels especially applicable here.
Simplified plots allow my audience and myself more room to move and explore. I think that’s the direction I want to go.
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